Recidivism Reconsidered

Preserving the Community Justice Mission of Community Corrections

Jeffrey A. Butts and Vincent Schiraldi

button_opendocRecidivism is not a robust measure of effectiveness for community corrections agencies. When used as the sole measure of effectiveness, recidivism misleads policymakers and the public, encourages inappropriate comparisons of dissimilar populations, and focuses policy on negative rather than positive outcomes. Policymakers who focus on recidivism as evidence of justice effectiveness are confusing a complex, bureaucratic indicator of system decision-making with a simple measure of individual behavior and rehabilitation. Recidivism is at least in part a gauge of police activity and enforcement emphasis and, because of differential policing practices in minority communities, using recidivism as a key measurement may disadvantage communities of color. Relying on recidivism defines the mission of community corrections in law enforcement terms, relieving agencies of their responsibility for other outcomes such as employment, education, and housing.